It seems inconceivable, but Milly Alcock had never seen Game of Thrones when she took on the role as one of the stars of new spin-off House of the Dragon – which made it all the more impressive once she stepped onto the set.
“I just thought, ‘Holy shit,'” she says. “I didn’t know you could make TV like that. And I think that whole experience opened the door to a world I didn’t know existed.”
The Australian actress plays the younger version of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen – with Wanderlust’s Emma D’Arcy playing the older version – on the new HBO/Sky show, which premieres next week. She faces veteran actors like Paddy Considine, Eve Best and Matt Smith, and for months her face has been gracing billboards around the world.
It’s a journey for someone who just a few years ago was washing dishes to make ends meet. However, Alcock seems to have it all in his stride as we meet in a huge hotel room in central London, with journalists and Sky staff buzzing about. The actress sits right in the middle of it all, quite relaxed, if perhaps a little exaggerated.
“I got a selftape for an unknown HBO project,” the 22-year-old tells me, “and I shot it with a friend of mine.” She had no idea what it was for since HBO took the names from the script removed, but luckily her friend found out. “He said, ‘This is a Game of Thrones scene. This is the scene with Arya Stark.’”
Two weeks later, Alcock was cast as one of the stars of the show. She entertains me with stories about filming; of dragon riding – “It’s fun for the first 10 minutes, and then by the time you’re up there for three hours you’re like, ‘My ass fucking hurts'” – and learning how to emote in Valyrian, the fictional one language of the Targaryens.
Alcock grew up in Sydney and cites an early school production of Little Red Rocking Hood (a revamped adaptation of the original fairy tale) as the inspiration to get her into acting.
“I remember being on stage,” she says, waving her hands for emphasis. “I had this euphoric feeling. And I was like, ‘I want this, whatever that is. Yes, I want to feel like this for the rest of my life.’”
She pursued acting with a single-minded passion, taking acting classes with just “one other girl” when she was younger, and attempting to kickstart her career several times as she grew up.
“I was always a little too independent from a very, very young age,” she says, recalling the time when, at the age of four, she “sat down with my mother … and told her it was time for me to go to big school.”
Undeterred by this inevitable disappointment, she did the same when it came time to apply to the drama school she eventually attended. “I signed up for high school and told my mom when the audition was. When I was 13, I called my agent, called the agency, like, ‘Hello, can I audition?’ because I learned very early on that no one is going to do that for me.”
The tactic worked. Alcock worked her way through a slew of small Australian TV shows – mostly police procedures, she admits ruefully because they’re “the only jobs you can do in Australia” – before being cast as troubled teenage Meg alongside Tim Minchin on Aussie Road -Trip comedy series Upright.
She dropped out of high school for this role. “I love Mega. Meg is the reason I’m here,” she says, adding that she recently wrapped up filming on the second season. “Everything has closed again.”
Despite her love of the show, she’s equally adamant that she had to leave her homeland to make it as an actress.
“There is no budget,” she says. “The government really doesn’t fund the arts. There is no appreciation for the art at all. People don’t really go to the theater; they can’t afford it.
“The only people who go to the theater are old and rich and white. So all the pieces they perform are aimed at that audience. Art specifically in Australia is not made for young audiences… it rejects them entirely; It’s really frustrating.”
As a result, she says, many young actors are choosing to leave — in fact, Alcock’s face lights up when I mention her friend and fellow Australian, Markella Kavenagh, who will be starring in upcoming Lord of the Rings spinoff The Rings of Power next month .
Is the UK different in approach to art? she snorts. “Just the fact that it’s advertised; the fact that people talk about it? You wouldn’t do that at home.”
It’s hard not to shake the feeling that she’s reeling slightly from the sudden realization of what this interest means to her. “It feels like two different jobs,” she says. “Because you go to work, you do the work. And that makes me really happy in the end. I can walk away and say, ‘I was proud of today. I let go of my fear and had fun and was able to explore.
“And then you come here and there are people waiting outside your hotel with things to sign… it just feels like a different version of me. And then you just have to turn it on. I mean, I’ve only ever lived my life as I am, and now people care. It wasn’t like I had any other big jobs.”
However, she brushes away any questions about anxiety, attributing it for the first time to moving abroad alone. “My family can’t come over,” she says of the London premiere, which is taking place the night we meet. “And it’s just, I really wish my mum could be here because that might never happen again. So it’s kind of bittersweet … things like that don’t happen to people like me.”
With House of the Dragon complete for now, what’s next? She firmly believes that while she’s often chosen to play “open, strong, independent” young women, she actively seeks out different roles.
“I want to play a boxer,” she says casually, then adds, “Or I want to play a Valley Girl.” When I ask why, she shrugs. “I want to gain skills through this job. I mean, I’d rather have a great script about a skill, but why not both?”
A few minutes later, she adds another role to her list: Amy Taylor, the lead singer of Australian punk band Amyl and the Sniffers, whose music channels the “female fury” she used to play Rhaenyra in. “You should look them up,” she adds as the interview ends and her team dismounts.
Given the way Alcock eats up the screen in House of the Dragon, being a punk rock star should be a no-brainer.
House of the Dragon will be available exclusively on Sky Atlantic and the NOW streaming service from August 22nd